Later this month (2/23), the series SUN Records premieres on CMT, with music supervision by friend of the show and friend of hillbilly music Chuck Mead. We’ve been thrilled to follow Chuck’s journey on this unexpectedly large gig. Years ago he was hired to keep the music real in the then off-Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet. It grew into a global award winning phenomenon. This week we got to hear Chuck perform his own music again for the first time in a while, and he was part of our own quartet of Nashville artists. Worth a million? Who’s to say. What’s fair to notice, I think, is that for ten bucks, it was a very good deal.
Hailey Whitters kicked things off looking show-biz sharp in a black sparkly dress and backed by an extremely tight country band. Her stuff comes through the playbook of Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin with commercial-friendly touches that ought to propel it to the airwaves. Her co-write with Lori McKenna “Happy People” was lovely and bright. Album title cut “Black Sheep” was deeply bluesy. Special notice for Telecaster picker Anthony Olympia who played masterful backing and lead throughout.
We like eclectic, and boy did Amelia Eisenhauer bring that to the stage. Songs were stylistic mashups and the set flowed around from the gospel heartiness of “What Your Mother Told You” to the hard bluegrass romp of “Pistol Pete.” The band was partly family – her brother and mom played and sang. I found a lot to like in the sweet and lofty “Moth or Butterfly.”
Chuck Mead got started with a twist-worthy groove on “Short Goodbye” and offered a brand new honky tonker called “Tap Into Your Misery.” We’re more than familiar with his smoky, slow 6/8 shuffle called “Sitting On Top of the Bottom.” And he closed with his song version of the story from his home state of Kansas that was captured in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. “Evil Wind” it’s called, and it only sounds evil if you listen to the lyrics really closely. Besides that, I was listening all set to Carco Clave’s remarkable pedal steel guitar.
You can tell the folks in the audience who were attending Government Cheese shows in the 1980s. They got up and danced. A dude pumped his fist in the air. Fans sing along with the surreal and snarky lyrics, while the five piece band makes its loud, joyful electric noise. The wonderful Lisa Oliver Gray and Tommy Womack’s son Nathan joined in on voice and trombone respectively for the set closing “I Need Love.”